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Good disposition improves grading

12/12/2013 @ 2:23pm

Culling cows with poor dispositions not only makes for safer herd handling, but also increases calf performance. Because temperament is heritable, genetic selection can produce calmer cattle, and calm cattle have better feeding performance and produce higher-quality carcasses than anxious cattle. Higher profits result.

“Ensuring the safety of people is the biggest reason to improve disposition of cattle,” says Darrell Busby, retired Iowa State University beef specialist, who currently manages Iowa’s Tri-County Steer Carcass Futurity.

“Besides that, cattle with better dispositions gain better, have better health in the feedlot, and they grade better,” he says. “Docile steers and heifers produce significantly heavier carcasses, with more fat cover and larger rib eyes than aggressive steers and heifers. More docile cattle produce higher-quality carcasses with fewer Yield Grades 1 and 2.”

The sum effect impacts the bottom line. Data compiled by Iowa State University shows that docile cattle had an average feedlot profit of $46.63 per head, restless cattle averaged a profit of $26.16 per head, and aggressive cattle earned a profit of just $7.62 a head.

The data came from 47,410 calves fed over an eight-year period at 18 Iowa feedyards custom-feeding cattle for cow-calf producers participating in the Tri-County Steer Carcass Futurity. Participating producers represented 22 states and one Canadian province. Data collected on the cattle and shared with producers included feedlot performance, carcass quality, and disposition scores.

Final disposition scores were averages of scores recorded each time cattle were processed through the chute at the feedyard. “We used a numeric system that measures the cattle’s reaction to being handled during processing and how excitable they become when being restrained,” says Busby.

The visual scoring system followed the six-point rating developed by the Beef Improvement Federation as part of its Quality Assurance Program. A score of 1 designates docile, and 6 indicates very aggressiveness. (See “Scoring Cattle” story.)

To simplify data analysis, the six-point system was condensed into three classifications: 1 and 2 were classified docile; 3 and 4 were classified restless; 5 and 6 were classified aggressive.

Of the cattle in the data set, 58% scored docile, 33% were restless, and nearly 7% were aggressive, making them particularly dangerous to handle. Overall average daily gain for the docile group was 3.22 pounds per day; it was 3.01 pounds per day for the aggressive cattle. Of the cattle in the docile group, nearly 67% graded Choice, compared to 52% in the aggressive group. 

“Carcasses from more excitable animals have a greater tendency to produce less tender, borderline darker-cutting carcasses,” says Busby. “With this in mind, producers can make culling decisions within a breeding program and select for temperament as a possible option to decrease the number of carcasses that harvest lower-quality meat at slaughter time.

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